Audi S3 Sportback 2014 review
Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the Audi S3 Sportback, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
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For some people, fast just isn’t fast enough. That’s why there are several levels of Ferraris and Porsches from which to choose.
The formula has not been lost on the mainstream brands, which use highly profitable and highly desirable performance cars to subsidise more affordable models in the range, while boosting their brand image.
For example, Volkswagen is currently cutting the guts out of the base model Golf at $22,990 drive-away, including metallic paint, and dealers can’t even afford to throw in floor mats apparently.
But, in the same breath, Volkswagen increased the price of its Golf GTI by $500, because it’s an in-demand model (with up to a four-month wait) and VW figures buyers in this price range can comfortably cough up another $500, to $41,490. The top-line Volkswagen Golf R stretches the friendship further, costing in excess of $50,000 (although, as we discovered, as a cut-price BMW M5, it’s worth every cent).
Which brings us neatly to the Subaru WRX STI released this week. It’s the more potent version of the regular WRX, cooked up with the customary ingredients: bigger brakes, bigger wheels, a bigger engine and a bigger turbo. Oh, and how could we forget, a bigger rear wing.
But there is one critical element missing: the epic price gap. Since the very first STI was released locally in 1999, Subaru has gotten away with whacking a massive $20,000 premium on top of the regular WRX for the STI version. Not any more.
Sanity has prevailed and the new Subaru WRX STI is $10,000 cheaper than before, to a starting price of $49,990. That’s still $11,000 dearer than the standard WRX, so Subaru executives won’t be turning up to soup kitchens with an empty cup anytime soon.
The new price point is aided in no small part to an artificially devalued Japanese Yen, a strong Australian dollar, and the realisation that Subaru couldn’t possibly justify such a ridiculous premium amid the current competition: the Volkswagen Golf R, etal.
But Subaru shouldn’t pat itself on the back too firmly. All of the STI add-ons equate to only about a $5000 premium (brakes, wheels, tyres, and more robust drivetrain hardware). Subaru has even saved money in the engine department. It’s the same turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder that’s been used in the STI for the past seven years.
The engine has barely been touched; power is unchanged. Furthermore, the STI’s engine is likely cheaper to build than the one in the regular WRX, which is a fancy new direct injection unit. But Subaru can get away with charging more than the sum of the STI’s parts because enthusiast buyers will pay.
As before, there are two models in the range. Standard fare on the $49,990 version includes cloth-covered sports seats, navigation, a rear view camera, a sensor key, a premium sound system, dual zone air-conditioning, and a liberal application of STI badges, one of which is tastefully illuminated in the centre console (albeit in pink). The STI gets the bigger brakes that the regular WRX also deserves: Brembo four-piston calipers up front and two-piston rears, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The luxury version, priced from $54,990, gains leather seats, a sunroof, bespoke BBS 18-inch wheels, heated mirrors and front seats, and electric adjustment for the driver’s seat. A six-speed manual transmission is standard. As before, automatic transmission is not available. Subaru has increased the number of dealers the STI is available through nationally (up from 12 to 20).
But Subaru still lacks fixed price servicing (maintenance intervals are 12,500km or six months, whichever comes first) whereas Volkswagen and others give buyers transparency and peace of mind. Resale values of the WRX STI take a bigger hit than the regular WRX because you’re starting from a higher price, although this may improve with the new model. Time will tell.
Used examples in original condition (resist the urge to modify the exhaust, engine and suspension; apart from potentially voiding the warranty, it’ll dent resale value) with a perfect service history and low kilometres (45,000km) can fetch 50 per cent of their RRP after three years (average).
There is a tricky boost pressure and G-force display in the digital screen on the top of the dash. Meanwhile Subaru uses its “Si Drive” dial to adjust the sharpness of the throttle response, although it doesn’t deliver any extra power.
The canyon between the stunning Subaru WRX concept car and the showroom reality has been well documented. Sadly, the STI does little to bridge the gap and may have even committed a bigger sin: an over-reaction to the sedan’s blandness.
The main visual difference between the regular WRX and the STI is the plastic picnic table mounted on the boot-lid that doubles as a wing and can been seen on Google Earth satellite view. The big wing wasn’t cool in the 1990s and looks even more ridiculous now. Fortunately, Subaru has decided to make the STI’s wing a “delete option” for the first time.
If you buy the car with a wing and then change your mind, be warned. The wing is tapered at each end to handle airflow over the car, so you can’t use it as a table. The coffee mugs would slide off. Check the magnet on your fridge for the local council’s next hard rubbish collection date.
Seven airbags and a five-star safety rating carry over from the WRX and the rest of the Impreza range. Stability control has two settings -- standard mode and a racetrack mode -- as well as ‘off’, which should be only used on a track and only by the brave. A rear view camera is standard (the same as that found in the WRX) but the screen is small and there are no parking sensors front or rear (even though they are standard on the cheapest VW Golf GTI).
Let’s cut to the chase. The new Subaru WRX STI has exhilarating performance and goes a considerable way towards redeeming the underdone WRX’s reputation. In fact, with its power, grip and brakes, it’s what the WRX should have been. If only Subaru could find a way to create a step above this car it would have a truly compelling line-up.
The STI’s aging 2.5-litre engine may have redefined turbo lag in the modern era, but once revs rise above 3500rpm and pull all the way to 6500rpm, the car thrusts with such force that your body is obliged to release a shot of adrenaline to give your brain sufficient power to keep up with what’s going on. The turbo engines on European rivals deliver better overall performance over a broader power band. The STI’s narrow power delivery defines its character -- and makes it feel faster than it really is.
Subaru says the WRX STI can do the 0 to 100km/h dash in 4.9 seconds but, using satellite-based timing equipment, the best we could achieve (without melting the clutch) was a time of 5.7 seconds after numerous gallant attempts.
The STI’s weight gain and the lack of a slick-shifting twin-clutch transmission blunt acceleration. It means the STI is now not as quick as the Europeans which can achieve the same feat in a real-world, neck-breaking, 5.0 seconds. Nevertheless, the WRX STI is still a blast. The six-speed manual gearshift is smoother than before, which is a good thing as you row through the cogs to keep the revs in the engine’s sweet spot.
The STI’s steering is heavier than the regular WRX but more communicative. You can really feel the front wheels clambering over the contours in the road under hard acceleration. It delights the senses. Grip from the Dunlop 18-inch tyres is impressive -- in the wet or dry -- and the ride comfort over bumps is excellent by performance-car standards.
The only caveat is that, at suburban speeds, the STI’s suspension can feel a little “busy”, although not firm. It’s not a deal-breaker, but nor is it an amazing feat: the STI’s rivals ride on 19-inch or 20-inch wheels and tyres these days and still deliver comfort.
The STI’s four-piston front brake calipers and large discs ensure there is ample stopping power, time and time again. The brake pedal also has a much more precise feel than the regular WRX. The sooner the base model WRX gets these brakes, the better.
Downsides? The interior is all but identical to the regular WRX but for some STI logos and, although the appearance and quality seem better than before, they’re still not a match for the Europeans.
Nor does the over-sized rear wing suddenly transform this fairly bland sedan into a visual heart-starter. The very fact that there’s not much to differentiate the STI from the regular WRX highlights just how much extra profit margin there is in the STI. But as long as performance cars delight the senses, buyers will open their wallets and sign on the dotted line.
The new Subaru WRX STI may not win any style awards, or attract buyers of European cars due to its gruffness, but its many loyal disciples will continue to appreciate its exhilaration and eccentricity -- even if it’s not quite as quick as its rivals.
|(AWD)||2.5L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$16,700 – 23,210||2014 Subaru WRX 2014 (AWD) Pricing and Specs|
|Premium (AWD)||2.5L, PULP, 5 SP MAN||$18,300 – 25,520||2014 Subaru WRX 2014 Premium (AWD) Pricing and Specs|
|STI||2.5L, PULP, 5 SP||$23,500 – 31,900||2014 Subaru WRX 2014 STI Pricing and Specs|
|STI Spec R||2.5L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$28,900 – 38,280||2014 Subaru WRX 2014 STI Spec R Pricing and Specs|